1936 — Albert Fish is executed for murder

One of the most prolific serial killers in American history, Albert Fish claimed to have killed as many as a hundred people, mostly children. He was also a rapist and a cannibal, which makes his claim to have ‘had a child in every state’ both more horrific and more ambiguous. It is still unclear how many crimes Fish actually committed, and how much was just boasting on his part – a mystery further clouded by his refusal to confess to some crimes he was suspected of.

At his trial, he plead not guilty by reason of insanity, a claim backed by expert witness Fredric Wertham (a noted child psychologist at that time). Although the jury agreed that he was insane, Fish was convicted of three homicides based on evidence, and confessed to two others. He was sentenced to death, and killed via electrocution in Sing Sing prison. His last words were reportedly, “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

Referenced in:
Fishtales — Macabre
Instruments of Hell — Exhumed
Needleshark — Unusual Suspects
The Gray Man (Albert Fish) — Church of Misery
Albert Was Worse Than Any Fish In The Sea — Macabre
Document.Gracebudd — The Number Twelve Looks Like You
Mr. Albert Fish (Was Children Your Favourite Dish?) — Macabre

1959 – Charles Starkweather is executed for murder

One of the earliest modern spree killers, Charles Starkweather was responsible for the deaths of eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1, 1957 and January 29, 1958, when he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, were captured.

Starkweather tried to shield Fugate from the legal consequences of her participation in some of the killings, but his story changed too many times to be taken seriously. She was sentenced to life in prison, and he got the chair. At one minute past midnight on June 25, 1959, Charles Starkweather, who still showed little remorse, was executed by electrocution in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

Referenced in:

Nebraska — Bruce Springsteen

1921 – Sacco and Vanzetti are executed

Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian-born labourers and anarchists resident on Massachusetts. On May 5, 1920, they were arrested for a robbery that had taken place the previous month. They were tried and convicted of the robbery.

Later, in 1921, they were tried again for a murder, and again convicted. The two men were sentenced to the electric chair, and executed on August 23, 1927.

Their arrests and trials aroused considerable controversy, both at the time and ever since. The prosecution’s case had many holes in it, and it was widely believed that the two men were convicted not so much for being guilty of the crimes they were accused of, as for being anarchists.

50 years to the day of the execution, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring, “Any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti.”

Referenced in:

Here’s To You – Joan Baez
Two Good Arms – Charlie King
Facing The Chair – Patrick Street
Sacco and Vanzetti – David Rovics
Sacco and Vanzetti – Against All Authority
Sacco e Vanzetti – Ennio Morricone and Dulce Pontes

1890 – The Electric Chair is first used to execute a condemned prisoner

The first person to be executed via the electric chair was William Kemmler in New York’s Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890; the ‘state electrician’ was Edwin Davis. The first 17-second passage of current through Kemmler caused unconsciousness, but failed to stop his heart and breathing. The attending physicians, Dr. Edward Charles Spitzka and Dr. Charles F. Macdonald, came forward to examine Kemmler. After confirming Kemmler was still alive, Spitzka reportedly called out, “Have the current turned on again, quick — no delay.”

The generator needed time to re-charge, however. In the second attempt, Kemmler was shocked with 2,000 volts. Blood vessels under the skin ruptured and bled and his body caught fire.

In all, the entire execution took approximately eight minutes. Westinghouse later commented: “They would have done better using an axe.” A reporter who witnessed it also said it was “an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging.”

Referenced in:

Fuel – Ani Di Franco

1903 – Thomas Edison films ‘Electrocuting An Elephant’

Topsy is the only elephant in world history to have been convicted of murder and deliberately executed for it. The animal was owned by the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island’s Luna Park, and was approximately 28 years old at the time of her death.

A notoriously foul-tempered animal who had killed three men (one of whom, admittedly, was a sadistic trainer who had fed her a lit cigarette), the decision to execute Topsy was not taken lightly, and electrocution was chosen as a more humane alternative to hanging. Thomas Edison, who first suggested the method, also filmed it, producing a short feature entitled ‘Electrocuting An Elephant’ which has been used in a number of films and music clips over the years. Even a few seconds of the film will be sufficient to convince you that humane must have meant something different in 1903.

Referenced in:
Coney Island Funeral – Piñataland